Thursday, November 26, 2009

Touring the Parents

Since it is the holiday, I'll make this one short and sweet. Plus, I had the 'rents in town for Thanksgiving an it was more of a tour-day for them. However, that did not deter from a wonderful day out and about some places that I was already familiar with and people that I currently do business with.

Anyway, a full day of tasting and dining in the valley...

We started at O'Brien Estate and met with my friend Bart O'Brien the proprietor there. They are a super-friendly comfortable picnic style tasting in the heart of Oak Knoll district where you are right in the vineyards. They are known for their 'Seduction' wine that is a Bordeaux style red that is ultra-delicious.

We moved on to Auberge du Soleil Hotel on the east side of Rutherford for a quick lunch. If you've never been to Auberge, it is a must visit if for nothing else the views. But, the food is always amazing and I had one of the best mushroom soups I have ever had...and I do not love mushrooms! I recommend the "bar side" for convenient and easy fare.

Then on to ZD Winery for a quick stop before our 3p appointment. ZD does a great job with their base Chardonnay and they are also know for their super high-end solera-style red called Abacus ($450) that they have pioneered and been making for 12 years mixing previous vintages with current vintage productions.

Our 3pm appointment was at Paraduxx, a sister property of Duckhorn that does almost exclusively Zinfandel blends. It is unique in both presentation and style of tasting. It is a very contemporary designed facility that serves you in an outdoor lounge setting under giant oak tree amongst the property. My favorite was the Howell Mt. blend of 65% Zin and 35% Cab...super juicy and delicious.

After taking a few pictures at the French Laundry for the folks, we ventured over to the newest property in Yountville, the Bardessono Hotel for the best coffee in town. This is one of the most talked about places in town as it positioned itself as the ultra-green enviro stamp benchmark for hotels in the future. Fully sustainable and taking in to account everything "green" from top to bottom.

We ended up the day the Rutherford Grill as toted our wines in with the "no corkage" policy and enjoyed a always consistent dinner with our own wines from the day.

I wish a Happy Thanksgivng to all and may you enjoy the true meaning of what this holiday represents.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Thursday, November 19, 2009

HIt the Mark Right Out of the Gate

Today is the first in what I hope will be an insightful series of weekly reports back on my ventures in wine country here in Napa and Sonoma. Let me state my goals here and then I will go on to report on my day.

I want to accomplish three primary things in doing these weekly outings on Wednesdays to have my followers tune in on Thursdays to see what transpired - 1) Showcase a new wine or winemaker that I discovered making something special that you will want to try, 2) Present real-time events, conversations or observations of what a day in touring wine country provides, 3) Give readers an "insiders" view of some anecdotal perspectives of what life in Napa Valley and beyond looks and feels like.

My first (reporting) day out yesterday did not disappoint in the least....

As with most 'tasting' days, you need a good meal in you to get started. My favorite spot (as is with most in the industry) is Rutherford Grill off Hwy 29 right next to BV Winery. I've made more connections and done more business there than anywhere else outside my office. There is always just such a buzz there and is the true melting pot for anyone in and around wine. As usual, I sat at the bar in between two people and just waited for conversations to flow as they most inevitably do. Without a corkage fee there, you always have someone that has brought something to the bar and it is always easy to solicit a quick sip or three.

I tried two wines there, '07 Silverado Zinfandel from a couple a guys who brought it in as part of their stop-over there and an '07 Anaba Carneros Pinot Noir. With my seared Ahi tuna salad, they actually both went quite well. I struck up a conversation with the girl next me, she was from Boston visiting her sister in Yountville, and she knew the valley decently along with some people in the industry. Our discussion was interesting from a consumer standpoint as we delved in to why people try new wines or are loyal to certain wines. Her view was that she liked to know or follow certain winemakers and when wineries changed winemakers. Since this has been fairly prolific as of late with winemakers doing so many alternative or personal projects, the movement has been more than ever and very tough to keep up with. I, of course, disclosed to her that in the Access Wine Club (AWC) catalog and website, we do a very good job of giving the winemaker their voice along with a link online to 'About the Winemaker' for each wine. She liked this feature a lot. After giving her and the other guys a copy of my catalog, I was ready to be on my way to venture out up-valley. Quick bit of business once again at "The Grill".

After making notes of a few wineries I passed to possibly hit on the way home (you always seem to pass a few that you say to yourself "ahh, I need to check them out...") I decided my first stop would be a winery "collective" tasting room just north of St. Helena called - A Dozen Vintners - where you get to try several wines from various 'artisan' style winemakers or smaller production wineries that do not have formal tasting rooms. The utilize these type of co-ops to be able to display their wines without the cost of running a tasting room themselves...there a few of these that have cropped up in the valley and are quite popular.

I spent quite a while there with the manager, Jack Wall, and we tasted through probably 12 wines while chatting about the state of the 'industry'. I was very fortunate in that no other customers came in this window and was able to spend quality time exploring some new exciting wines. The two standouts of the entire day were wines I had never heard about before; 2005 WaterMark Cabernet and 2004 Adams Ridge Cabernet. Both of these had what I refer to as the "WOW!" factor right off the bat.

2005 WaterMark is made by a pretty well-known winemaker, Phil Steinschriber, who is the winemaker for famed Diamond Creek Vineyards. No surprise here that I loved this wine. It is a Bordeaux style blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot with rich black fruit properties and very approachable now but surely even better with time. And, at ~ $50, a real gem of wine that would be hard to beat at this price (only 434 cases made). I spoke to Phil briefly later that afternoon and if you want to get this wine, contact me directly at - - and I might be able to make a good deal for you directly...wink, wink.

2004 Adams Ridge Cabernet was also a superb wine that initially caught my eye with the beautiful drawing of their wine cave on the front of the label. As this is AWC's front catalog cover icon, I was immediately drawn to this bottle. Little did I know that what was inside was even more compelling. Primarily Cabernet with a little Merlot (5%) thrown in, it was richly Stag's Leap District style Cab that comes from two distinct vineyards, Stelzner and Rutherford Bench that have always produced great wine. Ronald & Susan Adams are the proprietors and the winemakers themselves and have done a tremendous job right out the gate. This is definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to meet them and explore their cave...maybe the cover for the next catalog...?

I then ventured further up-valley making a few quick business pit-stops and finally ending up at the Wine Garage in Calistoga. This is an interesting little shop where almost all the wines are at $25 or below. they also make their own wine label called - Garage Wine - that includes several varietals and blends from whites to reds all reasonably priced $10 and up. I actually picked up a couple of fun zin/petite sirah/tempranillo blend wines - '06 Fortitude ($20, by Etude wines) and '07 John Robert Eppler wine ($13).

All in all a very productive and revealing day with a couple of great discoveries. That is about all I could fit in to one day as I got a bit of a late start. It was time to start heading home, pick up a pizza at Tra Vigne Pizzaria, and enjoy the fruits of my labor when I got home wines in hand.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino
twitter - Chief_Wino

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chief Wino Hits the Trail...Literally

In getting back to the roots of why I came to Napa in the first place and what I actually enjoy most about living in wine country, I am going to (re)dedicate this Local Wino Whines Blog to my travels, trials and tribulations of exploring the Napa/Sonoma and beyond.

Every Wednesday, I will be out and about wine country mixing it up with wineries, winemakers, various tastings, favorite wine lunch spots and the like, reporting back on my day to post my findings every Thursday by noon. I will concentrate on new wine discoveries, but will also be reporting back on the "day-in-the-life" of what goes on in Napa/Sonoma from a true 'local wino' perspective.

So, starting this Thursday, come back to my blog and see the first Chief Wino Explores (CWE) report on what the day presented and what I discovered along the way. This will be a weekly insightful and fun ride for all to enjoy!

Chief Wino

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Return to Whining

One can only keep up so much theses days. Between tweeting, facebooking, blogging, spacing, and launching a new wine business - Access Wine Club - I have been very tardy on my own personal wine blog and my site. That being said, I've decided to use my Local Wino Whines forum to express shorter, more concise consumer views about wine and link my observations from the wine business side with the consumer side. More of a view from inside out that may be of some interest.

My goal is to be very to the point and approach certain subjects more directly as they occur from my primary focus now which is the Access Wine Club catalog and website venture.

So here goes...subject #1 - Social Networks and Wine.

There is obviously a lot of interest in Social Networking across all channels these days and it has become the latest Internet darling. It is a broad term very loosely used now since there are so many of these portals that have been developed, but there is a more technical term being thrown around referred to as a "viral-expansion loop". This is a fancy way of saying friends telling friends that tell other friends and so on that revolve around a common interest of sorts whether it is where they went to school, family, social clubs, activities or key interests and the such. The expansion and growth has been exponential, literally. Now, people are trying to find out how to capitalize on this (i.e. monetize) with the huge numbers we're dealing with.

I've created a wine group on Facebook, I tweet as much as I can, and I have a portal, a forum and website all revolving around wine. And now, we sell wine through some exclusive partnerships here in Napa. Although interest is high and the numbers can be 'fruitful', the buyers are still tough to identify. Just because there is a wine "interest", it does not mean that they are buyers.

In summation, wine is a very social commodity and there are big numbers to reach. The next step is to find what compels people to go from sharing their interests about wine online to actually becoming a buyer. Access Wine Club attempts to do this through offering specialty wines through some exclusive partnerships along with giving the (potential) consumer more thorough information about the wine, the background, the winemaker and the winery itself to create interest beyond just a rating or a couple of sentences about the wine.

So far so good...we just need to continue to expand the pockets and do our best to inform the consumer well enough to make comfortable decisions about their purchase when trying something new.

More to come...

Chief Wino